Posts Tagged ‘cooperation’

A new, profound insight into “climate change cooperation”

October 21, 2013

There is bad science and there is silly science and there is trivial science. There is also inane science.

And their are learned journals for all of them. This is a new paper published by Nature Climate Change. (One wonders why?). The authors though can be very pleased since they can each add another paper to their respective list of publications. “We learned from this experiment that even groups gravitate towards instant gratification” 


Jennifer Jacquet, Kristin Hagel, Christoph Hauert, Jochem Marotzke, Torsten Röhl, Manfred Milinski. Intra- and intergenerational discounting in the climate gameNature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2024

EurekAlert has this to say:

Delayed gratification hurts climate change cooperation

Time is a huge impediment when it comes to working together to halt the effects of climate change, new research suggests.

A study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that groups cooperate less for climate change mitigation when the rewards of cooperation lay in the future, especially if they stretch into future generations.

“People are often self-interested, so when it comes to investing in a cooperative dilemma like climate change, rewards that benefit our offspring – or even our future self – may not motivate us to act,” says Jennifer Jacquet, a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s Environmental Studies Program, who conducted the research while a postdoctoral fellow working with Math Prof. Christoph Hauert at the University of British Columbia.

“Since no one person can affect climate change alone, we designed the first experiment to gauge whether group dynamics would encourage people to cooperate towards a better future.”

Researchers at UBC and two Max Planck Institutes in Germany gave study participants 40 Euros each to invest, as a group of six, towards climate change actions. If participants cooperated to pool together 120 Euros for climate change, returns on their investment, in the form of 45 additional Euros each, were promised one day later, seven weeks later, or were invested in planting oak trees, and thus would lead to climate benefits several decades down the road – but not personally to the participants. Although many individuals invested initially in the long-term investment designed to simulate benefits to future generations, none of the groups achieved the target.

“We learned from this experiment that even groups gravitate towards instant gratification,” says Hauert, an expert in game theory, the study of strategic decision-making.

The authors suggest that international negotiations to mitigate climate change are unlikely to succeed if individual countries’ short-term gains are not taken into consideration.

Could there be any form of cooperation – in any field – where long-term gains are not out-weighed by instant gratification? For any investment – let alone a cooperative investment – given a choice of a short payback or a long payback, is there any case where the long payback period is chosen? 

This is so profound and so deep an insight it almost hurts!


Silly science? Evolution does not favour the selfish

August 1, 2013

Silly season is upon us.

Two Michigan University researchers claim that evolution will not sustain a “selfish gene” but will eventually select for cooperation.

Why am I not in the least bit convinced?

If either selfishness or cooperation was genetically determined, and if survival was dependent upon such a choice, then one or the other should have become extinct a long time ago.  The silliness of this work lies first in the assumption that a behavioural characteristic – even if crucial for survival – is merely determined by genetics.  Second, evolution never selects for excellence – whether in superlative selfishness or for unstinting cooperation. It represents the minimum of behavioural traits needed to survive till reproduction.

Evolution couldn’t care less if individuals are selfish or cooperative. It only results from those individuals sufficiently selfish or sufficiently cooperative for survival until reproduction. 

Of course the Daily Mail manages to put it in a remarkably silly headline:

Selfish people ‘will eventually die out’ because evolution favours cooperation

The paper is published in Nature Communications.

Christoph Adami, Arend Hintze. Evolutionary instability of zero-determinant strategies demonstrates that winning is not everythingNature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI:10.1038/ncomms3193

The accompanying press release trumpets

Evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean 

Two Michigan State University evolutionary biologists offer new evidence that evolution doesn’t favor the selfish, disproving a theory popularized in 2012.

“We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean,” said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. “For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable.”

The paper appears in the current issue of Nature Communications and focuses on game theory, which is used in biology, economics, political science and other disciplines. Much of the last 30 years of research has focused on how cooperation came to be, since it’s found in many forms of life, from single-cell organisms to people.

In 2012, a scientific paper unveiled a newly discovered strategy – called zero-determinant – that gave selfish players a guaranteed way to beat cooperative players.

“The paper caused quite a stir,” said Adami, who co-authored the paper with Arend Hintze, molecular and microbiology research associate. “The main result appeared to be completely new, despite 30 years of intense research in this area.”

Adami and Hintze had their doubts about whether following a zero determinant strategy (ZD) would essentially eliminate cooperation and create a world full of selfish beings. So they used high-powered computing to run hundreds of thousands of games and found ZD strategies can never be the product of evolution. While ZD strategies offer advantages when they’re used against non-ZD opponents, they don’t work well against other ZD opponents.

“In an evolutionary setting, with populations of strategies, you need extra information to distinguish each other,” Adami said.

So ZD strategies only worked if players knew who their opponents were and adapted their strategies accordingly. A ZD player would play one way against another ZD player and a different way against a cooperative player.

“The only way ZD strategists could survive would be if they could recognize their opponents,” Hintze said. “And even if ZD strategists kept winning so that only ZD strategists were left, in the long run they would have to evolve away from being ZD and become more cooperative. So they wouldn’t be ZD strategists anymore.” 

Game theory for an individual game or even for a succession of games is one thing but evolution does not care how selfish or how cooperative an individual is.

Humans prefer to cooperate, chimps don’t

October 18, 2011

Perhaps this was one of the critical genetic traits which – in evolutionary terms – helped humans  separate from the apes and power ahead to be the leading species on the planet.  It is not difficult to imagine that a “cooperation” gene or a “motivation to cooperate” gene – if such a thing exists – could have resulted in a number of “downstream” needs (for communication, language, artefacts, complex social organisations, arts and science) which in turn selected for and influenced the development of the traits which distinguish anatomically modern humans from other primates.

A new paper from the Max Planck Institutes in Leipzig and Nijmegen:

Yvonne Rekers, Daniel B.M. Haun and Michael Tomasello. Children, but Not Chimpanzees, Prefer to CollaborateCurrent Biology, 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.066


Human societies are built on collaborative activities. Already from early childhood, human children are skillful and proficient collaborators. They recognize when they need help in solving a problem and actively recruit collaborators.

The societies of other primates are also to some degree cooperative. Chimpanzees, for example, engage in a variety of cooperative activities such as border patrols, group hunting, and intra- and intergroup coalitionary behavior. Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees possess many of the cognitive prerequisites necessary for human-like collaboration. Chimpanzees have been shown to recognize when they need help in solving a problem and to actively recruit good over bad collaborators. However, cognitive abilities might not be all that differs between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to cooperation. Another factor might be the motivation to engage in a cooperative activity. Here, we hypothesized that a key difference between human and chimpanzee collaboration—and so potentially a key mechanism in the evolution of human cooperation—is a simple preference for collaborating (versus acting alone) to obtain food. Our results supported this hypothesis, finding that whereas children strongly prefer to work together with another to obtain food, chimpanzees show no such preference.


  • ► First study comparing collaborative motivation between children and chimpanzees
  • ► Children, but not chimpanzees, prefer collaborative over individual food acquisition
  • ► Motivation might be one key factor in the evolution of human-like cooperation

Science Daily

Researchers from the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that when all else is equal, human children prefer to work together in solving a problem, rather than solve it on their own. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, show no such preference according to a study of 3-year-old German kindergarteners and semi-free ranging chimpanzees, in which the children and chimps could choose between a collaborative and a non-collaboration problem-solving approach. ….

The research team presented 3-year-old German children and chimpanzees living in a Congo Republic sanctuary with a task that they could perform on their own or with a partner. Specifically, they could either pull two ends of a rope themselves in order to get a food reward or they could pull one end while a companion pulled the other. The task was carefully controlled to ensure there were no obvious incentives for the children or chimpanzees to choose one strategy over the other. “In such a highly controlled situation, children showed a preference to cooperate; chimpanzees did not,” Haun points out.

The children cooperated more than 78 percent of the time compared to about 58 percent for the chimpanzees. These statistics show that the children actively chose to work together, while chimps appeared to choose between their two options randomly. ….. Future work should compare cooperative motivation across primate species in an effort to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the trait. …..

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